Five grassroots climate justice movements COP28 could learn from

From Pakistan to Paraguay, these campaigns are trying to bring out changes in communities at the front line of the climate crisis.

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the visit of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, October 31, 2021.
During the COP26 conference two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, demonstrators protested against farm laws that they argued would deepen inequality in India [File: Hannah McKay/Reuters]

From kings to presidents, CEOs to non-profit bosses, many of the world’s most influential individuals have gathered in Dubai for COP28, the latest edition of the annual United Nations climate conference.

Like every such summit, the Dubai conclave, too, has seen criticism, though a loss and damages fund was launched on the first day to support poorer nations that have done little to contribute to climate change yet bear some of its harshest consequences.

Still, the annual UN summits have often been described as talk shops that do little to fundamentally improve the planet’s chances of surviving warming temperatures, or to ensure climate justice.

Meanwhile, communities around the world — and especially in the Global South — are at work trying to shield future generations from the devastating effects of climate change.

Here are some initiatives and movements that keep the needs of local communities in mind when working to address climate change and advocate against climate injustice.

Karachi Bachao Tehreek – Karachi, Pakistan

Pakistan’s largest urban centre, Karachi, was ravaged by floods in August 2020. As a response, the government and disaster management authority began a large-scale anti-encroachment drive, demolishing financially disadvantaged settlements, ostensibly to clear the city’s natural stormwater drains. This resulted in heavy urban displacement, affecting many working-class families in the city.

A group of activists in Karachi which advocated against the demolitions came together as a movement under the name Karachi Bachao Tehreek (KBT), Urdu for Save Karachi Movement. As a response to the crisis, KBT conducted on-ground surveys of those affected by demolitions to assess their experiences and expectations for the future. Additionally, the group organised public hearings across Karachi’s affected neighbourhoods to gather feedback about the government’s resettlement plan. KBT creates public awareness about the issue and helps pressure authorities by organising marches and rallies protesting against climate injustices.

Save Aru – Aru Islands, Indonesia

Aru Islands are a forested archipelago in Indonesia. A company called the Menara Group received government approval to plant sugarcane across about two-thirds of Aru for a multibillion-dollar commercial project, threatening food security and the livelihoods of hundreds of residents. The politician who granted this permission was later jailed for corruption.

In 2013, the Aruese, headed by local activist Mika Ganobal, responded to this by organising a protest in Aru’s main town Dobo. The movement that came to be known as Save Aru was led by women. The people involved in the movement also carried out investigations to demand more transparency about the paperwork and permits behind the approval for the plantations. The campaign’s efforts came to fruition in 2019 when the government cancelled the plantation, saving Aru from becoming a victim of commercial monoculture.

Conamuri – Paraguay

Eastern Paraguay couldn’t escape becoming a victim to commercial monoculture. Commercial soybean plantations replaced its beautifully diverse forested land, displacing Indigenous and farmer communities, contaminating land and water with agricultural pollutants, killing animals and spreading diseases.

Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas e Indígenas (Conamuri) translates to National Coordination of Farmer and Indigenous Women. Conamuri formed alliances with other women’s rights and farmers’ rights organisations to resist the climate injustice imposed by authorities. These groups also seek to protect and preserve Indigenous and ancestral knowledge about their land and food. They do so by organising marches protesting against commercial land use and fundraising to plant crops.

Beirut Urban Lab – Beirut, Lebanon

The sense of urgency following the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006 brought together faculty members from the American University of Beirut who channelled their expertise to assess the aftermath of the war. This project came to be known as the Beirut Urban Lab.

What started as an effort to document and research post-disaster recovery has burgeoned into a wider study of urbanisation and development in Lebanon’s cities. The projects aim to create a transparent resource of housing information for low-income urban residents of Beirut. Mona Fawaz, the co-founder of the project, spoke about how sustainable living choices were considered a luxury before, but are now also financially viable. People in Beirut are willing to transition to solar energy and public transport. The urban lab is currently trying to recommend urban regulations that size buildings according to solar capacity. The Beirut Urban Lab carries out research, mapping and workshops to advocate for the recovery of urban spaces where sustainability and equity go hand in hand.

RuralRevive – Maltahohe, Namibia

Maltahohe is a village in southern Africa’s Namibia, home to a population of about 6,000 people who carry out communal and commercial livestock and horticulture farming.

It was once a central hub of the country’s sheep industry, but the sector has shrunk in recent years, leading to rising unemployment.

Yet it is strategically located near popular tourist destinations, including wildlife reserves. The RuralRevive initiative taps into that advantage to try and revive the village’s economy in ways that are environmentally sustainable and benefit the local community.

The idea: turn Maltahohe into a local distribution hub for products and services while also carrying out sustainable energy conservation and waste management.

Plans to make this successful include a solar-powered laundry service with wastewater recycling that provides employment opportunities for local women, a barn that allows local farmers to sell fresh produce and a solid waste management and recycling facility.

Source: Al Jazeera